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Online Forums Showcase Bushfire CRC Research

Hundreds of participants from across the emergency management sector, both in Australia and internationally, have participated in the Bushfire CRC’s Research to Drive Change series of online research forums.

The series presented the findings of the Bushfire CRC’s research program (2010 to 2014), delivering scientific insights into ways of making both communities and firefighters safe, as well as vastly improving forecasting and modelling. Other topics in the series included community safety, ecology, incident management and economics to aid decision making.

Each of the forums involved a documentary style video summarising the research findings, together with a Fire Note and in-depth research reports. These resources, together with a complete video of each forum, are available on the Bushfire CRC website for replay and downloading.

One of the first forums covered Next Generation Fire Prediction. Held in May, it proved to be one of the most popular, with more than 120 people logging in on the day to join the researchers for the interactive webinar.

The collaborative research project produced the Fire Impact and Risk Evaluation Decision Support Tool (FireDST), a proof of concept simulation system that aimed to provide critical fire planning information to emergency services, government and the public. FireDST is an advanced software program that could be used to understand the potential impacts a bushfire may have on community assets, infrastructure and people. FireDST demonstrates the ability to predict the probabilities of both neighbourhood and house loss, as well as the potential health impacts of bushfire smoke and the areas that are likely to be affected by a bushfire.

The Paying the Price forum featured research that investigated the role of economics in the management of bushfire strategy and its execution.

Case studies of integrated assessment of fire risk management strategies in New Zealand’s Central Otago region and South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges were used to demonstrate how fire-prevention strategies could provide value for money.

A decision framework was developed to provide an integrated assessment of the benefits and costs of fire risk management strategies. The study highlighted fire risk management strategies (including prescribed burning) that were likely to produce the highest benefit for each dollar spent. The methodology offers valuable decision-making inputs into fire management programs.

Also discussed was the use of economic decision-making processes within fire and land management agencies. The research showed that economic evaluation was a useful tool for bushfire management, but remains under-utilised within agencies. A number of key actions were identified to increase the use of economic evaluation methods. These included increasing economic expertise among bushfire management and policy professionals, and designing economic evaluations that connect to the broader social and political context of bushfire management decision-making.

The firefighter health and safety forum discussed research on firefighter health and safety by designing a circuit that simulated tasks conducted on the fireground. 

The firefighter health and safety forum discussed research on firefighter health and safety by designing a circuit that simulated tasks conducted on the fireground.

The concept of shared responsibility and broader implications for legislative, policy and planning processes were examined in the Power to the People forum. More than 90 participants logged on for the event. The aim of the research featured in the forum was to develop a deeper understanding of shared responsibility and the role of planning, policy and legislative processes as key drivers of change in risk management. The research also investigated emergency management policy and law, as well as urban planning and its role as communities expand into the rural/urban fringe.

The role and scope of communication in bushfire preparedness and response was the focus of the What Are You Telling Us? forum. It explored ways to engage communities and individuals living in fire-prone areas in community safety initiatives.

The researchers, led by RMIT’s Professor Peter Fairbrother, examined the complexities of how people in these different localities organised and operated. The study investigated their formal and informal networks, and how individuals and groups within these ‘social networks’ related and communicated with each other, as well as with emergency services agencies.

The researchers suggested that communication should be interactive and tailored to the complexity and diversity of each locality to have lasting and measurable impact. That diversity included a broad range of factors, such as differences by locality, class, economics, ethnicity, gender and age.

Living on the Edge was another forum, which attracted more than 90 participants to join the live conversation about perceptions and reality of risk in bushfire prone communities.

Professor Ross Bradstock (University of Wollongong) and Associate Professor Ruth Beilin (University of Melbourne), together with industry representative, Mike Wouters, of South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, detailed extensive research findings on householder perceptions of fire risk and how these shaped bushfire preparedness.

Professor Bradstock’s research indicated that people living in fire-prone areas recognised fire risk, but may have treated it as a lower priority than other lifestyle values and factors, such as lack of time, cost barriers and aesthetic quality.

Dr Beilin’s study provided a ‘mud map’ mechanism for householders to visualise and reflect on the fire risk in and around their properties so they could take action. The technique could be a useful tool for community safety educators to talk to people about fire risks, identify ways to safeguard their properties and increase their chances of surviving a bushfire.

Fire and its impact on water, air and land featured in the Fire in the landscape forum. The forum turned the spotlight on the findings of four key projects by University of Melbourne and University of Sydney researchers on the impact of fire on water quantity and quality and the changing nature of carbon stores (above and below the ground). The first two studies focused on the role and impact of planned and unplanned fire in water quality and quantity from catchment forests in south eastern Australia. The other two concentrated on the quantification of carbon losses during fire, a key issue emerging from climate change and increasing greenhouse gases within our atmosphere.

Other forums in the series were Thinking Under Fire, Awake Smoky and Hot!, and Beyond the Incident.

Thinking Under Fire investigated how people behave and make decisions responding to stressful conditions such as the threat of bushfire. Awake, Smoky and Hot! examined health and safety issues for frontline emergency management workers, including the impact of toxicity from fire emissions. Beyond the Incident investigated information flow, communication, capacity to adjust to emerging scenarios, breakdown in coordination, training and education and how changes to these elements will support more effective incident management.

The Bushfire CRC has now concluded, but embedding the research findings into agency practice continues through the research utilisation function at AFAC.

For more information, go to www.bushfirecrc.com

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